A March 1 auto accident opposite Centennial High School that took the life of 16-year-old Andrea Barlow has sparked a move by the county PTA Council to restore driver education in the schools.
County police reported that the accident occurred when Andrea, driving a Honda Accord, pulled out of Waterford Drive into the path of a northbound pickup truck on Centennial Lane. Her two friends, passengers in her car, were injured. It was at least the 10th traffic accident at the school during this school year.
County PTA delegates, meeting three days after the fatal accident, quickly agreed to renew the council's 4-year-old effort to get driver education back into the public high school curriculum.
Insurance studies show mixed results on the link between driver education andteen-agers involved in car crashes, but the focus of parent concern in the county has been the quality of driver training. Marylanders are eligible for a driver's license at age 16.
"We'd like to see thefocus back on educators teaching kids rather than the profit motive," said Lynn Benton, PTA Council delegate from Centennial High. "This is one of those things that's an ongoing concern. The accident at Centennial just got parents going again with the concern that their kidsare not getting the best possible instruction."
PTA leaders beganlobbying to restore driver education "almost immediately" after it was cut from the school curriculum in 1987, recalled Sandra H. French,PTA council president at the time. Driver education and survival swimming were among programs axed by the school board after then-County Executive M. Elizabeth Bobo cut $4 million from the school budget request.
"There has never been a review of those decisions," French said. "There has never been a study committee to re-examine whether weshould restore those programs."
Faced with school board reluctance to increase the budget by restoring driver education, the PTA council began asking in spring 1989 for the program to be offered "at cost." Parents who wanted their children to take driver education in the schools would pay the full cost of the program.
That proposal wentnowhere with the board. The resurrected request, also at cost, appears unlikely to fare better unless the PTA can muster broad parental support.
Board chairwoman Deborah D. Kendig's immediate reaction was to point out that the former driver education supervisor is now retired. "The whole infrastructure would have to be put back into place,and from what we're facing (with the budget), I don't think this is the year," she said.
However, Benton said she believes parents would be willing to pay the full cost of the program, including supervision, to get driver education back into the schools.
Teen-age student drivers pay $170 for the program at Easy Method Driving School in Ellicott City or $160 at Sears Authorized Driving School in Columbia.Sears charges an additional $25 for training on a standard shift car.
At Centennial High, Principal Sylvia S. Pattillo said she has seen more than 10 auto accidents since September 1990 on the stretch ofCentennial Lane opposite the school. Most of the accidents have beenminor collisions involving cars pulling out of the school entrance onto the road or cars being rear-ended as they slowed to turn into theschool, she said.
The school's Parent-Teacher-Student Associationexecutive board decided last week to circulate a petition in the community asking the county government to "take swift action to prevent any more tragedies on Centennial Lane," the principal reported.
Pattillo said the petition will leave specific improvements, such as a stoplight or relocation of school entrances, up to county traffic experts.
County traffic engineer Edward Walter said last week that the department already is checking sight distances along Centennial Lane at the school.
"The sight distances appear to be adequate," Walter said.
Howard County has adopted national standards for placement of traffic lights, the traffic engineer said. The standards call for signals where traffic volume is high, pedestrians are crossing, orfrequent accidents occur.